Bruce Kaphan Quartet: Bruce Kaphan Quartet (2012)
What can be more American than jazz played on pedal steel guitar? After all, both are United States' cultural products. Yet pedal steel guitarists are rarely found outside the different sub-genres of country music. Enter Bruce Kaphan, a virtuoso of this instrument and a talented composer who peppers Bruce Kaphan Quartet with abundant jazzy sensibilities.
Kaphan includes a couple of standards in the repertoire, allowing the steel guitarist and his band mates ample opportunity to demonstrate their versatility. "Birdland" features his melodic chords structured around the tune, while drummer Jason Lewis' danceable rhythms give it a rock 'n' roll feel. The languid, almost Hawaiian treatment of "What's New" showcases Kaphan's rootsy strumming and John R. Burr's smoothly flowing piano lines.
Burr channels his inner boogie-woogie on a deconstruction of The Allman Brothers Band's "Jessica," while Kaphan demonstrates his western swing influences and Jeffrey Wash deftly pushes the limits of the fretless bass, an axe he truly masters.
Wash's intelligently constructed solo brings out a vaguely bebop feel to the otherwise laidback "Grapple with the Apple," while his mellifluous and intricate improvisation highlights the enchanting complexity of "Iz Isn't."
Kaphan's originals paint sonic pictures of quintessential Americana; the atmospheric "Aether" conjures up images of night falling over dusty roads and cornfields. The equally evocative "Waiting" is a bittersweet ode to anticipation expressed in the guitar's twangs, while the rhythm section pushes the melody forward like trains entering and leaving the station. More urban sounds abound on "Running With The Big Dogs," where Burr's fusion-esque piano and Lewis' propulsive drums enhance the mood.
Part nostalgic ballad and part road song, Wash's "Highway Remembered" concludes the CD on a lyrical and poetic note. Although this album may not be for purists, it is nevertheless beautifully emotive with plenty of improvisational rigor, making it a unique and delightful musical opus.
Track Listing: Aether; Waiting; Been Here Soon; Grapple With The Apple; Iz Isn’t; Birdland; What’s New; running With The Big Dogs; En Nior Et Blanc; Jessica; Highways Remembered.
Personnel: Jason Lewis: drums, percussion; Jeffrey Wash: fretless electric bass; Bruce Kaphan: pedal steel guitar, synthesizer; John R. Burr: piano (1, 2, 4-8, 10); Rich Kuhns: piano (3, 9, 11); John Wiitala: upright bass (7).
Record Label: Wiggling Air Records